Even though I had been a sex educator for 12 years before becoming pregnant, I was not prepared for all that happened during the pregnancy, nor all that happened in the nearly 3 years of parenting. My main parenting role models were my parents and my perception of their experience raising my two siblings and I.
Let me tell you, having a child in the 2020s is a whole different experience from having a child in the 1980s. Not only has our understanding of pregnancy and parenting changed, but the way we access that information has changed. My mom was 24 years old when I was born. I was 37 when I gave birth. I had the luxury of a Betamax to watch Michael Jackon’s Thriller in the Philippines. My half-Filipino child gets to watch a Filipino host lead Blues Clues and You either on the TV or on my phone. My mom was able to learn from her 8 older siblings about parenting, while I get to scream into the void of Facebook while I avoid the drama of Moms’ groups.
This pandemic is really fucking hard for parents of young children. Not only because there’s a small human to care for, but because it can make it even more difficult for parents to care for themselves and their partners.
Maybe because of all that scream sharing, the algorithm definitely knows too much about our lives as parents, and it likes to rub that knowledge in our faces. Lately, the internet has been showing me article headings that read something like, “This pandemic is REALLY FUCKING HARD for parents of young children.” I’m paraphrasing, but you get it. It’s not wrong, though it’s more probable that this pandemic has been hard for everybody who cares about other human beings. So yes, this pandemic is really fucking hard for parents of young children. Not only because there’s a small human to care for, but because it can make it even more difficult for parents to care for themselves and their partners.
So much of parenting is focused on how we can ensure a happy, healthy childhood for our little ones. Are we feeding them enough/the right foods? Are they getting enough rest/stimulation? Are we following TikTok and Instagram Influencers who are teaching us about gentle parenting? Many articles touch on giving the birthing parent a break or finding time to themselves every now and then. But they don’t often acknowledge the intergenerational trauma of having to re-parent ourselves in order to parent our little ones, and that there is a real privilege in being able to do so.
To those who aren’t primary caregivers or parents to young children, it might seem that society caters mainly to families. Tax breaks and discounts seem to abound. But like everything else in our western society, that’s only true if you have a wealth of resources available to you whenever you want or if you don’t have to fear for the safety of your children because of the color of their skin or the slant of their eyes. It’s all a lovely façade painted by the institutions that benefit from population growth and the outdated imagery of a “nuclear family.”
We’re supposed to be caring and loving to our screaming toddlers when all we want to do is scream alongside them because we’re stressed about work or simply by moving through the world while belonging to several marginalized identities.
Child care is unaffordable, and child care providers are not any wealthier. Everything that we want to participate in, including time with friends, is often scheduled during nap time, dinner time, or bedtime. We’re supposed to be caring and loving to our screaming toddlers when all we want to do is scream alongside them because we’re stressed about work or simply by moving through the world while belonging to several marginalized identities. By the time we could be resting, we find ourselves in an endless cycle of preparing for the next day, doom scrolling, or finally sitting in the only silence we’re able to relish at 1 am.
When and how exactly are we supposed to care for ourselves and our partners? How can we continue to nourish our personal relationships when so much is focused on nourishing our child(ren)?
Okay, Google, How Can We Reconnect with Our Partners?
One of the common suggestions to help foster those relationships is to schedule your self-care and partnered time, whether it’s a date, sex, or personal spa day. Also, sharing Google Calendars with your partners and co-parents can help get everyone on the same page.
Sometimes it can help to have something in a calendar to stick to, not unlike the structure we try to provide to our little ones. Still, it’s not the only answer, and it assumes that parents have the time and resources to be so organized. It can act as a guide reminding you to put yourself and your partner on your list. However, it also requires flexibility and grace on everyone’s part as schedules can change quickly depending on everyone’s needs.
More than sticking to a scheduled date night, acknowledging how exhausting parenting is can be the kindness you all need at that moment.
Flexibility matters the most when you’re too tired to think creatively. Unfortunately, Google Calendar won’t tell you what kind of mood you or your partners will be in when date night arrives. It won’t tell you that your toddler is going to have a meltdown because they can’t wear their Santa Hat to bed. More than sticking to a scheduled date night, acknowledging how exhausting parenting is can be the kindness you all need at that moment.
Calendars also won’t tell you what constitutes a “successful” date night. Long before children and long-term partnership or marriage, you might have negotiated what dates looked like with each other. Discuss what you’d like to do and where you’d like to go, but it doesn’t have to look like what it used to. Acknowledge that you and your partners have changed since the beginning. Your relationship has evolved, and so can your dates.
It Takes a Village, But Where are the Villagers?
Let’s acknowledge what a privilege it is to have a family who helps with child-rearing. This is the norm in so many Indigenous communities and communities of color. It was certainly what I expected my parenting experience to look like.
Our globalized living often means that people are separated from their families, raising their own families in different cities or countries altogether.
Though my family is on the other side of the country from us, we are extremely lucky to have the support of my partner’s family. Even then, they have their own lives, responsibilities, and schedules. Our globalized living often means that people are separated from their families, raising their own families in different cities or countries altogether.
If you do have nearby family members, hopefully, they are willing to assist you with occasional babysitting to allow for date nights. If they also have young children, you all could take turns regularly to give each other time to recuperate and reconnect with their partners.
If you don’t have reliable family nearby, this is where social media can be put towards some good. There really is a Facebook group for everything, including finding local parents with kiddos in your child’s age range. Now, I’m not saying to put up a post that reads, “Need childcare tonight! Any stranger available?” These groups are where you can foster a relationship with people who understand your life and won’t judge you. Find parents who might want to meet up at a park to let the kiddos run around while you talk about your sleepless nights, what foods your children are or aren’t eating, and the amount of poop you all have to deal with. Eventually, you can find some parents who you can trust and perhaps make an arrangement to trade babysitting nights.
There’s another subset of folks you probably have in your life who you need to include in your Potential Babysitters list: all of your childfree-by-choice friends, especially those who proudly say that they love the Auntie/Uncle/Untie/Auncle/Pibbling life. I repeat: Let them be the people who want to be around your children and give them back to you at the end of the night. That type of adult is so important for your child to have in their life. They need to have multiple adults who care for their well-being and love them. When your toddlers and preschoolers become angsty teenagers, those caring adults can be the ones you all can turn to and rely on.
More and more, people are making the choice to stay unmarried and childless. Let them. Then add them to your Babysitters List.
Society truly attempts to pigeonhole people, especially those with vulvas, into parenthood as though it is the main marker of adulthood. Having a uterus is not a reason to have a baby, nor should anyone be forced into thinking that this is the singular experience that matters the most. More and more, people are making the choice to stay unmarried and childless. Let them. Then add them to your Babysitters List. Schedule something at bedtime, and set them up with access to your HBOMax account. “Netflix and Listen to the Baby Monitor”.
Does Size Matter When It Comes to Gestures of Love?
You finally have a date night scheduled, and someone on your Babysitting List is available. What the hell are you going to do?
This time away from children is an opportunity to connect, do something different from the same tasks involved in caring for a child. It doesn’t have to be overly complicated, and you can find plenty of articles that suggest different ideas, like an at-home movie complete with movie theater snacks, a card game, or a set of pre-packaged questions from a “conversation starters” box, or even a new sex toy you’ll experiment with together. Let’s be real, though, your date could involve you getting ready for bed together and turning in earlier than usual.
You each get to nourish your relationships with yourselves and to others, and hopefully come back refreshed and ready to connect with each other and your family unit.
On that tip, connecting with a partner could involve giving them personal space. You can connect with your friends for an evening, while your partner gets quiet time or some time with their preferred adult film clips and their favorite sex toys. Next time, they can go out and you can get your alone time as well. You each get to nourish your relationships with yourselves and to others, and hopefully come back refreshed and ready to connect with each other and your family unit.
Connecting with a partner also doesn’t have to be a date on a calendar. If you’re able to text during the day, send a quick check-in. Do some chores together, especially since tasks are not often divided equally. Even if your decompression time revolves around a show you watch together, review that show together. Of course, you can go for the lingerie, candles, and moonlight serenade if that’s something you would enjoy. Those big gestures are not often what make or break relationships.
The media doesn’t often portray the moments where the birthing parent is deep in postpartum depression, or the parent loses their patience because their kid won’t put on their shoes...
So many studies suggest that marital satisfaction decreases significantly after having a baby. Of course it does! This shit is hard! And no, we didn’t “know what we were getting into,” even if we thought we did. The media doesn’t often portray the moments where the birthing parent is deep in postpartum depression, or the parent loses their patience because their kid won’t put on their shoes, or the parents are having difficulty paying utility bills because daycare costs are through the roof.
In those moments, rather than trying to scramble to put together a shiny, perfect date night, hold space, have compassion, and practice empathy with each other. Also, maybe have some food and water, take some deep breaths, and take a moment to walk away for a couple of minutes. These tactics we try to teach our little ones are also quite useful for us as well.
Managing our expectations about ourselves, our partners, and our children is a major part of unlearning the trash information we were given. Giving ourselves, our partners, and our children the space to feel our feelings, to learn how to communicate our needs, to tap into the moment when we need to ask for help, that’s breaking-generational-trauma type shit. It is so much responsibility on top of the ones you already have as a parent.
At the end of the (long, emotionally, physically, and financially draining) day, we are still whole humans individually with our own independent set of wants and needs. We deserve to have parenting partnerships that acknowledge that individuality, as well as the opportunities to connect with people and communities we care about. We deserve to be the role models we want to be for our children so that if they choose to have their own families, they can call on their internal and external resources to make it through another day.